Ex-EU ambassador warns ousting Theresa May for ‘true believer Brexiteer’ boosts chance of no-deal exit
Replacing Theresa May with a hardline Brexiteer would “wreck” any chance of Britain leaving the European Union with a deal, Britain's former EU ambassador has warned.
Sir Ivan Rogers said potential promises by Eurosceptic leadership challengers such as re-opening the withdrawal agreement, which the EU has repeatedly ruled out, would likely lead to the “breakdown” of talks.
Mrs May has vowed to stand down once phase one of the negotiations – the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc – has been completed and MPs agree a deal.
The pledge means a new Conservative leader will lead Britain into the second phase, which is expected to focus on the terms of the future relationship between both sides.
Tory Brexiteers have long called for the deal agreed by the PM, but which has been rejected three times by Parliament, to be re-opened in an effort to scrap the controversial Irish backstop, which guarantees a customs union until an alternative solution to keeping an open border.
But Sir Ivan, who was appointed as Britain’s ambassador to the EU by David Cameron but who quit January 2017, told BBC Newsnight European leaders were aware of the “danger” a new leader Conservative could present to negotiations.
“The process of appealing to the party base, which is, after all, more fervently eurosceptic than many of the parliamentarians and may well want a more true believer Brexiteer as their leader, will see various candidates give pledges as to the future direction of the Brexit talks on what they would do in phase two, that will essentially wreck any prospect of phase two succeeding,” he said.
“So for example, if people were to give commitments saying, you know, ‘when I’m in power if you give me if you give me this job, I will reopen the withdrawal agreement, indicate that we can’t possibly accept the backstop and take a much more robust and bellicose position with Brussels’.
“Well, that leads fairly inexorably, I think, to a breakdown of the talks.”
'PULL THE PLUG'
Britain's former man in Brussels also dismissed the idea that MPs have ruled out a no-deal exit by voting against it in the Commons, insisting that Brussels could refuse to offer another Brexit delay beyond that agreed until 31 October.
“Well, it can happen because the other side can decide to pull the plug on these talks, and say, ‘we’re giving you a couple of extensions, you haven’t used the time, nothing has really happened, we’re aborting this process’,” he added.
“You’ve already seen the pressures coming above all from Paris, but Paris wasn’t alone in saying this at the April [European] Council [meeting].”